Simple art for simple people
Jeremy Deller's motto is to create ‘simple art for simple people,' and his concept of art often challenges the art establishment and invites people to enjoy art for what it is. Despite his uncommon and controversial approach, he has become an icon of English conceptual art and was the recipient of the Turner Prize 2004 for his ‘Memory Bucket', an eight minutes sequence of people and landscapes in Texas with millions of bats flying out of a cave at dusk.
Deller's latest exhibition entitled ‘Joy in People', hosted by the Hayward Gallery in London until the 13th of May 2012, proposes a comprehensive survey of his career that spans from his earlier works in the 1980s until his very latest productions. Ralph Rugoff, the director of the Hayward Gallery, is the exhibition's curator and with this show he aims to incorporate all the major works of the artist, including installations, photographs, videos, posters, banners, performance works and sounds pieces.
The exhibition pushes the boundaries of art and illustrates how Deller's experimentation with art leads to new ways of being an artist and gaining acclaim for experimental work. The artist was born in 1966 in London where he continues to live and work and where he began to produce art in the late 1980s. In 1983 the artist himself organized his first exhibitions entitled ‘Open Bedroom' in his parents' house. The recreation of this very first piece opens the exhibition at the Hayward. In the bedroom, beside the works displayed on the walls, there are objects to look at in drawers and cupboards. This piece is the first expression of the artist's theme of proposing normal objects as artworks. As soon as the visitor exits the recreated bedroom, a large wall painting ‘I love Melancholy' (1995) dominates the scene and includes a person either writing at the desk or reading on a bench in the corner of the room.
The interaction between art and humans is a recurrent theme in Deller's production. In fact, Deller's work is often based on cooperation with other people, either collaborating in the production, or in being part of the work itself. An example of the latter is the iconic piece ‘Valerie's Snack Bar' (2009), a life-size reconstruction of a café of the same name in Bury Market, and used as a float in Deller's staged procession for Manchester's International Festival. Visitors of the exhibition can seat at ‘Valerie's Snack Bar' and enjoy a cup of tea kindly served by volunteers and watch the video of the original procession.
Another example of art produced in collaboration with other individuals is ‘It is What it is' (2009), an open discussion forum on the Iraq war set up next to the remains of a car blasted by a suicide bomber at Al-Mutanabbi book market in Baghdad. Deller took the same bombed car on a road trip across the United States accompanied by an Iraqi citizen and a US soldier, and whose travel experience is documented at the Hayward.
The exhibition also proposes pieces that detail the preparatory work involved with Deller's artistic production. For instance, the work entitled ‘The Battle of Orgreave' (2001) is a must see that provides an understanding of the substantial amount of work that Deller's embeds into his art. The artist spent two years researching into a very violent conflict which took place during the 1984-5 miners strike at the height of the Thatcher government's campaign to eradicate trade unions' power. The project re-enacted the confrontation between police and picketing miners at a British Steel coking plant in Orgreave. The final reconstruction involves 1,000 participants and builds on input from Howard Giles, a historical re-enactment expert, former miners, trade union leaders and police officers who witnessed the confrontation. An entire room is dedicated to document the archival material that helped the artist to reconstruct the facts and then re-act them. This work embodies his idea that normal people, through real life performances, create art in the street, and art is for everyone and not just for an elite of wealthy collectors or galleries.
Significant works are displayed throughout the rest of the exhibition. A prominent piece is ‘So Many Ways to Hurt you (the life and times of Adrian Street)', 2010, which proposes the story of Adrian Street, a wrestler admired by the artist for his capacity to search and find a fulfilling life despite his poor upbringing and the lack of opportunities in his native Wales. Another prominent piece is ‘Exodus' (2012), a 3D-film shot in Texas that documents the flight of some 20 millions bats at dusk and that recalls Deller's Turner's Prize winning film ‘Memory Bucket' 2003.
The exhibition closes with a section dedicated to Jeremy Deller's unrealized projects called ‘My failures,' which includes his proposals for the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square that features different victims of the war in Iraq. These pieces underline the extent to which Deller's art can be controversial and contain strong political messages, advanced without heaviness and in a very gentle way, and strengthened by the fact that his multi-faceted art is often displayed in public galleries and museums around the world. Surely his art will continue to encourage young artists to pursue their own reading of reality and propose their own art, despite it might not raise immediate acclaim and appreciation from the art establishment.
Jeremy Deller - ‘Joy in People' at the Hayward Gallery, South Bank, in London until the 13th of May. The exhibition will be at display at the Wiels Centre for Contemporary Art in Brussels from the 1st of June until the 19th of August 2012.